Clifton Merchant Magazine - March 2024

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Songs, speeches, support from political leaders and Panakhyda were all part of the two-year commemorative liturgy and vigil at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Church to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In Ukrainian religious tradition, Panakhyda is the service performed in memory of the deceased, to literally make their “memory everlasting.”

Organized by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America Passaic-Bergen Branch on Feb. 24, the community has long been supported by Congressman Bill Pascrell. “The Ukrainian people continue their brave fight for two years now after Vladimir Putin drove his tanks right at the heart of Ukraine, in an illegal, brutal, and unprovoked war of aggression. Ukraine deserves America’s support.”

Pascrell joined Pastor Rev. Andriy Dudkevych, Congressman Josh Gottheimer, another member of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, as well as a representative of Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, the area’s UCCA President Marie Duplak, other clergy and community leaders.

“We must show Putin that America is united against his unjust war against our democratic ally and stand up for the innocent civilians his dictatorial march is terrorizing,” said Gottheimer in his comments.

President Joe Biden’s national security adviser on Sunday Feb. 25 news programs pushed Speaker Mike Johnson to put a bipartisan Senate foreign aid bill to a vote in the House, arguing that doing so could help turn the tide in Ukraine’s war against Russia’s invasion.

“This is one of those instances where one person can bend the course of history. Speaker Johnson, if he put this bill on the floor, would produce a strong bipartisan majority vote in favor of the aid to Ukraine. We saw that in the Senate,” Jake Sullivan told ABC News.

As we go to press on Feb. 27, the House vote is still pending.

From the Editor,


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Contributing Writers • March 2024 3
ThankYoutoourGreatFuturesGalaSponsors: l , P i n a & P e t e r S a l e s A s s o c i a t e s YEARS of P i n a P i c k P i n a EXPERIENCE & EXP C : 9 7 3 8 7 325 # 1 T e a m C l i f t o n M o s t S o The Krenicki Foundation CRUSHING MY GOALS MODE $0 ENROLLMENT ON PEAK RESULTS LARGE HIIT TURF PERSONAL TRAINING GROUP FITNESS 895 PAULISON AVE • CLIFTON, NJ • 973.553.9470 Offer valid on annual contract and month to month. Annual fee and applicable taxes apply. Pricing and amenities may vary by membership and location. Additional fees and restrictions may apply. Standard first month dues apply. Offers ends 11/30. See club for details. © 2023 Crunch IP Holdings, LL Jag Physical Therapy • JK Realty • John & Nora Foster Foundation Lakeland Bank • M&T Bank • Neglia Engineering 4 March 2024 •

Alsohonoring the 2024 Alumni Hall of Famers

Lori Huk

Israel Reyes

Lee Sanderson

For 76 years our mission remains steadfast: “To empower all young people—especially those who need us most—to discover their full potential as caring, engaged, responsible community members.”

Please consider making a donation that will power our Future Ready mission. Our Clifton kids need to know we are here, and that we will continue to provide a caring space and all the support they need—physically, academically, and emotionally.

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Maureen Cameron

Boys & Girls Club of Clifton 181 Colfax Ave, Clifton, NJ 07013 Questions? Call 973-773-0966, ext 144 or email • March 2024 5

WHY WE LOVE Bob Foster

Editor Ariana Puzzo

connected with friends and fans as well as business associates and employees that know Clifton’s favorite adopted son, former Boys and Girls Club executive director Bob Foster. Here are their comments...

I met Bob in the late 80’s when he and others came to the Boys & Girls Club of Newark to get, I believe, recertified as a swim instructor. I met him that way, because I was teaching the class. I worked next in the Boys & Girls Club of Union, also as the Aquatics Director and then for about three years, I was the Program Coordinator in Clifton. Dolores Colluci was the executive director and Bob was in charge of Operations, so I worked under him and got to know more of him. Bob instilled in all of us the fact that what you’re doing, you’re always doing it for other people. It’s not about you.

My staff is amazing, because we all came out of The Club in one way or another. They go above and beyond, because they have The Club’s mindset. Bob showed us that by example. We have hosted Super Bowl parties and pool parties at The Club’s facilities, and I hope to continue doing that in the future. Bob retiring is a big loss, but I am so glad that he decided to continue serving the city on the Board of Recreation. I think that’s a great thing.

6 March 2024 •

Cindy DeVos, Chair of the Board

I admired so much of Bob’s work for The Club, but a big one was just his love for the kids. He was a human jungle gym for those little kids and spent his day visiting as many kids as he could. His connection with the kids is what I admire most about him and how he made them feel. What I’ve learned from him I think is his compassion for people. He’s very unassuming. Just in the way he interacts with people, you can hear the compassion in his voice. It’s how he speaks with the kids, but also to the parents that he knows need help.

His mantra was that we’re there for the ones who need us the most, not the ones who can afford us most. He truly lived that every day working for The Club. Now that he’s retired, we’re finding our way and it will take a while. It’s not an easy transition, because that presence in The Club for so many years isn’t something that you turn on and off. He left a great foundation that we can build upon, and I’m very hopeful and optimistic that we’re going to be successful.

Although I never had direct dealings with Bob, my son Matthew played soccer at The Club from 2005 to 2016 and my daughter Megan worked at The Club as a lifeguard for a couple of years. I have always seen Bob around supporting the kids, as well as the parents. If there was ever a problem of any kind, he seemed to handle it right away and with the utmost respect to all involved.

Doris McFarlane, Jim Anzaldi, Dante Liberti, Cindy DeVos, Rich Mariso. • March 2024 7
Rose Miller, Club Parent

Mr. Bob will most be admired for bonding with our members by doing his Riddle of the Day. Then... Bob would welcome members at the front desk, drive the bus, or walk down the hallway challenging the young minds of our members with his plethora of riddles. Staff admired Mr. Bob’s unwavering dedication and commitment to our organization, the members we serve, and the Clifton community.

Bob loved the pool and always called it The Club’s centerpiece. We’d see him on deck checking the pool and making sure everything was running. He was proud of that space. I swam for the Seahawks from the age of nine until sophomore year. When I was 15, I started lifeguarding and teaching swim lessons. After graduating college, I worked full time at The Club for four years and I’m now the general manager at Aqua-Tots in Clark. Being visible is something that I learned from Bob. People need to see you and know you care about them and the facility.

I’ll always associate the sound of keys jingling while walking with Mr. Bob. You could hear him coming before you saw him. As someone who was at The Club a lot, of course he knew your name and what you liked. He’d always say, ‘Hello’ and call you by your name, or ask about something you chatted about previously. He showed that when something’s important to you, no job is too big or too small. He was the executive director who’d refill the vending machine, but he’d also fundraise for major campaigns.

When the Girls Club and the Boys Club became one unit that is when most of us met Bob — when the Boards joined together. Dolores Colucci became the executive director and Bob was the assistant. He became the executive director when Dolores retired. He has been the voice and the strength of The Club during these years. He was recognized by the Boys & Girls Club of America when they named him the Executive of the Year, but I think his greatest achievement is how he guided so many youth over the years and they all just know him as Mr. Bob.

WHY WE LOVE Bob Foster
DEDICATION m Anzaldi is a lifelong Clifton resident dedicated to our city and its people He has been a special part of the cit y ’ s civic and charitable causes, helping people from all walks of life He is an outstanding public off icial who is respected throughout the community im Anzaldi deserves our support and help on November 6. RE ELECT #3 JIM ANZALDI k Promotions Avenue J 07011 PRSRT STD US Postage P A I D
Paula Benjamin, at left, and sisters Monique and Candace Mariso with Bob Foster. Candace Mariso, 00’s Club Kid Mayor James Anzaldi, Club Historian Monique Mariso, 00’s Club Kid
8 March 2024 •
Paula Benjamin, Program Director • March 2024 9

WHY WE LOVE Bob Foster

Peter Dones, 90’s Club Kid

I come from a single-mother household, and my mother had to use the Boys & Girls Club as a leverage to make sure that not only my schoolwork was accomplished, but I received mentorship. Bob Foster took me in at five or six years old, and I’m 39 now.

My foundation is from The Club. Bob took a liking to me at a very young age, and The Club ensured that I got picked up from school and it was feasible for my mom to make ends meet. He was almost like a father figure, a mentor and someone who disciplined me when I needed it. He ensured that I was in sports and hung around a good crowd.

I think that I’m good with people, because obviously the chaperones at The Club were teenagers helping out other kids, which forms a mentorship. I meet people in my job as the general manager of Morton Steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan, and my soft skills with people management go back to the Game Room playing ping pong and air hockey. Mr. Foster is such a big name in Clifton and he exposed us to everybody. We would go into City Hall and grow with the city. It is hard for you to leave Clifton, because of what you started out with.

Today, I hire the less fortunate and hire people that need changes and others who were probably overlooked. I grew with help that I received as a young adolescent and now I’m paying it forward. No one knows the behind-the-scenes work that Mr. Foster was a part of, to make things work. It was all about the growth of kids and making sure they were in a good place.

Mookie Maneyapanda, 90’s Club Kid

Bob Foster was one of the first people to teach my brother, sister, and I how to swim in the swim program. I have fond memories of The Club and he is the nicest person in the world. We were a little shy and nervous, but he made us super comfortable. My parents came from India and while we were born here at St Joseph’s, adjusting and assimilating was difficult. Our parents wanted us involved in the community, and we never felt intimidated there. He was so approachable. I always think of him as the most caring and compassionate person. He’s warm.

I’m super impressed with how The Club expanded under Bob’s leadership. I grew up while playing soccer in Clifton in the Recreation leagues. Seeing him coaching outside of The Club and being so involved in the community motivated me to be involved now. I currently practice at Clifton Family Practice, 1135 Broad St., and wanted to practice in the area and give back. I wanted to pay it forward to people who need that guidance and support.

In May 1996, Peter Dones with Bob Foster and Debbie Oliver. Inset, Peter today.
10 March 2024 •
Officer Kevin Collucci with Dr. Mukundha Maneyapanda in 2017. • March 2024 11

WHY WE LOVE Bob Foster

I believe Bob Foster started when I was about 10 years old, and I just remember seeing this giant of a guy. He had such passion to help us enjoy our childhood, and I recall he always made things very fun to play, but he also always got us to play our best. It’s the combination of, he made sports serious, but it was a lot of fun. I, for one, benefited greatly. The Boys Club was our sanctuary in the summers, especially. Every day you went there. You played sports and had the Game Room. You just grew up there. It allowed me to grow as a person and gave me a lot of responsibility. I couldn’t imagine not having The Club as such a focal point in our community.


Stan Lembryk, 80’s Club Kid

As a guy who played soccer, basketball, and baseball in high school, it stemmed from my Club experience. I went through The Club playing in the Winter Indoor Soccer League. I then played Division 1 in college at Loyola University in Baltimore and played professionally. Now

I’m in my 30th year of coaching and teaching, and I’m in my 21st year as a soccer head coach at Clifton. The Club and Bob have been the foundation, and our soccer program at the high school reaps the benefits of everything that Bob has done for the Winter Indoor Soccer League. All of the players come through there. It’s a rite of passage that still continues today.

We’re grateful for all that Bob’s done. He’s massive in so many of our lives. I’ve stayed active with Club Alumni and when I go now, I can’t believe that he’s not there. It’s a well-deserved retirement.

Frank Pajuelo, 90’s Club Kid, Trustee

My earliest memory of Bob was being nine or 10 years old at the youth indoor soccer league. But my first official encounter with him was probably seeing him day-to-day in the Game Room in the after-school program. He gave me my first job at The Club and, when I was 13 or 14, I worked at the pool. That’s where the relationship grew — from employment. My first impression as a kid is that he was a big, tall, scary man, because I hadn’t been at any type of afterschool program. It was just school and then home. Then I was surrounded by more people. I grew up in Paterson, so my upbringing was trying to keep me as safe as possible with my mom and I. Her introducing me to the Boys & Girls Club was a new world outside of what I was used to.

I would describe Bob as a man who was determined and always had a purpose. Whether he took a liking to me or he saw things in me that I aspired to be, or he even manifested

it, I learned to be determined and purposeful. I learned all of my leadership and professional skills at The Club and developed community relationships, empathy, sympathy, and a work ethic. He had scores of kids that I’m sure have memories of him or him of them. Every time a pathway would lead away from The Club, he’d find a pathway to lead me back. I never outgrew it, and Bob never let me go.

I was a kid from an urban city who was molded by an organization led by Dolores Colluci and Bob. They each gave me an identity outside of my parents. Today, I am the Supervisor of the Department of Assessment Planning and Evaluation for Paterson Public Schools and a 2024 Trustee for The Club. Any time Bob called, I was always there. He called the people that he trusted, and I felt that he trusted me. There are not enough words to describe what this man means to me.

12 March 2024 •
Mustang coaches Stan Lembryk, Marlon Flores and Frank Pajuelo with Bob Foster in 2020.

WHY WE LOVE Bob Foster

B&G Club’s Aquatics Director Nadia Stavko with Bob Foster and John DeGraaf in 2015.

John DeGraaf, Development Director (2013-2019)

My parents were sick in 2013 when I got hired by Bob and, honestly, landing the position was a gift of sorts. It gave me the flexibility to take care of my parents as Bob was understanding and trusting. Professionally, it was a chance to serve my hometown and The Club that I grew up

I didn’t grow up in Clifton and I didn’t participate in activities at the Boys & Girls Club, but I had a relationship with the place through my grandfather Henry, who was one of the original Board members, and my father Larry, who grew up in Clifton. I was asked to be on the Board around the time that Bob came on as Executive Director, and he was a great guy. He was personally very involved at The Club and was the kind of guy who was there all the time. He was always helpful and generous with his time. He was genuinely interested in making sure that The Club ran well and is funded. When I think of the other boards

in. We worked as a team to raise the profile of The Club. We set fundraising goals and developed a strategy to hit these goals. Bob is a great leader, a great boss, and a great person.

that I’m on, he’s an above-and-beyond guy.

One of the things that I’m most involved in is the annual Car Show. I remember doing the first Car Show and we had to give out awards. We thought that since Bob’s the director, he should be doing the speeches, but he was like ‘No, you’re the chairman. You do it.’ I’m like, ‘What? I have to get up in front of 300 people and speak?’ It is kind of funny in retrospect. Bob was always there and helping us out at the show. I think he did that with all committees, whether it was the golf outing, Taste of Clifton, or tricky trays. He let those committees do their thing, but he was always there for support.

John Fette, Board Vice President John and Kristin Fette
14 March 2024 • • March 2024 15

WHY WE LOVE Bob Foster

Bob is someone who led by example. He put the needs of The Club kids and his staff first, always. I feel that his focus was always to give kids the tools needed to empower them to live their best lives, whether the tools were related to sports, education, or social skills. Whatever they needed to help them live their best lives, that was his focus. As an organization, we’re fortunate to have had such a dedicated and caring person as our leader.

When I was serving as the president of the board for two years, he just made it so easy. I trusted his judgment and he just always knew where he stood. He was a truly genuine person. You didn’t question where his values were. I felt a confidence and a sense of security in leading the board of an organization while knowing our executive director was someone who knew what he was doing, cared about what he was doing, and always did the right thing. It’s hard now that he has left. It’s a change. But I think his leadership and legacy will continue to live on in the kids who have passed through The Club during the time that he was there.

Gloria Martini, Trustee

The law firm Corradino & Papa have been a generous supporters of The Club for over a decade. Here in 2019 when the firm donated two school buses are RC Papa, Gina Corradino, Gloria Martini and Bob Foster.

16 March 2024 • • March 2024 17

WHY WE LOVE Bob Foster

What stands out about Bob is the fact that he was always there. It didn’t matter the day or the time; he was always there for everybody. I joined The Club at age 9 or 10 for the after-school program and worked there for a number of years as a counselor. As a teenager, I really think doing that was because you wanted to be a little bit like Bob. He was the cool guy.

Tom and Amy (Pilipski) Acton, Former Club Counselors

I’ve only had two jobs — working at the Boys & Girls Club and then working for the Bloomfield Board of Education, first as a Special Education teacher and then super-

Bob and I met here at The Club when The Girls Club outgrew its facility and moved to The Boys Club’s location. We had our differences when we merged up here, but then he came over for Christmas dinner a year or so later and that was it. We dated and were married in 1995.

He was the Program Director at the time when we came here and he was very easy-going. Once everything was better between us, we worked well together and he was great with the kids. Until the day he

visor and now as the Assistant Principal of Bloomfield High School. I kind of followed Bob’s path of life in that it was always about giving back to the kids.

My wife, Amy, and I also met through working at The Club. We knew each other and went different paths before getting back together later in life. We’ve been married for 28 years. I would just like to thank Bob. I know that he set me on my career path, but I also know that he’s done the same for so many people. What I’d like to give to Bob goes beyond thanks.

retired, he would come into the classroom and give ‘elevator rides’ and knew all their names. Compromise had a lot to do with our success as a team. We both have compassion for the work and it was our home away from home. There was also a love and patience for the kids.

It’s different now that he has retired, because Bob was always present. He was here to open The Club and was here until late at night around dinnertime. I wish Gabe the best, because this is like home and a family. So I hope that continues. I have spoken to a lot of people who were shocked that Bob retired. They thought he’d be here forever. He is The Boys & Girls Club. He bleeds blue and white.

18 March 2024 •
Mary Jo Anzaldi-Foster, Early Childhood Director • March 2024 19

NEW LEADERSHIP Same Connection

Gabriel Blau knows leadership and supporting kids start with two fundamental words: building relationships. He saw it put to action by Bob Foster and he wants to do the same as the new executive director of The Boys & Girls Club of Clifton.

“[Bob] connected with kids in a really important way,” said Blau. “He placed a value on those relationships, which is crucial, because we are here to provide and be of service to Clifton’s youth.”

“[His connection] was evident from the second that he walked into a room just by how the kids responded,” he continued. “All the way until the last day when the kids lined the hall and there was a big clap out. Their energy and excitement for him and for all of his impact on their lives were just tremendous.”

Blau grew up in White Plains and studied Theology at Bard College during his undergraduate years. He earned his master’s degree at Columbia Business School, and he began his career during the turn of the century in the technology and small business consulting field.

It was while attending a fundraiser that he realized he wanted to pivot into doing what he always thought he’d do with his life. Namely, giving back. Blau entered the nonprofit sector six months after that fundraiser.

His past volunteer work has included serving on the Advisory Council of OutCasting Youth Radio and as a member of the Board of Directors for Love Comes First. Blau is also the co-founder of Equality New York and has acted as a Board member since 2016.

“I grew up volunteering and spent hours every week at the Y … feeding the homeless, recycling, and starting an environmental project to clean up a local stream,” said Blau. “It was my passion. It took me about eight years to realize it, then I went back to it.”

Measuring Success

Adults have many spaces for growth — whether it’s at home, work, or in public spaces like the local Starbucks or

libraries. Blau believes children deserve the same opportunities. “Our youth need places where they can find themselves,” said Blau. “Places where they can create trusted relationships with adults who aren’t parents or teachers.”

Blau cannot imagine the direction that his life would’ve taken had he not started volunteering in seventh grade. That volunteer work became a catalyst for determining who he is, not unlike the experiences of other kids before and since his adolescence.

He sees the same reality at The Club in the kids who became members in nursery school and now either return to volunteer or enroll their own children.

“It’s a testament to how important this is for them,” said Blau. “The Club is really special, because it’s a community center like a YMCA or a JCC, but it’s only for the community’s young people.”

Blau hit the ground running when we caught up after the first month and a half of 2024. He noted that The Club has begun to reshape its after-school program, started a dance class, gained new specialists, and there is an ongoing commitment to a paid internship program. It employs teens so they can learn how to navigate a job while receiving mentorship.

Dolores Colucci Healey, Bob Foster and Gabe Blau.
20 March 2024 •

One of Blau’s efforts is working with The Club’s team of staff, volunteers, and Board members to figure out what teens need from their services on a daily basis.

“We have something like 80 active high school aged teens in the building,” said Blau. “Our approach isn’t figuring out how to market ourselves to teens but rather, how do we serve the teens who are here?”

“We cannot measure our success by how many kids we sell our facilities to,” he said. “Our success is measured by … helping teenagers figure out their plans past high school,

helping them create friendships, and helping them learn how valued they are so they can support their community and their community can support them.”

Blau is the father of a teenage son, Elijah, who volunteers at The Club. As Blau considered the work he’s done with leaders throughout his career, he acknowledged that Foster is unique. “Clifton is really lucky. This space and the community that built The Club are something special,” said Blau. “That’s a credit to all who came before, like Bob Foster and Dolores Collucci.” • March 2024 21
At the Big Bob send-off at The Club in December, from left: Dominic Iannarella, Angelo Crudele, Frank Carlet, Janelle Hall, Joe Holmes, Mary Jo Anzaldi-Foster, Dolores Colucci Healey, Bob Foster, Cindy DeVos, Rich Mariso, Katrine Hyde, Frank Pajuelo, Maureen O’Connwor, Jim Anzaldi, Michele Chambers and Patty Lavendar.

2024 Alumni Hall of Famers

The Boys Club was Lee Sanderson’s second home. On some occasions, it practically became a first home. Sanderson recalled there was always something happening in the gymnasium. The pool is where he learned to swim but it was the ping pong tables where he spent most of his time.

“What boy doesn’t love playing pool?” said Sanderson (CHS 1972). On March 14, Sanderson, Israel Reyes and Lori Huk will be inducted into The Club’s 2024 Alumni Hall of Fame, part of the Great Futures Gala.

Whether enjoying free swims as a child or volunteering as a teen, he affirmed that his membership “definitely had a strong influence on my work ethic and the life path that I chose.” As the oldest of four boys, Sanderson was the first to join the Boys Club in 1962 at age 7. It cost around $5 for membership and his brother Don later joined him. The former Mustang also got his father, Jack, involved at the facilities.

“Shortly after joining,” said Sanderson, 69, “I insisted upon my father, Jack, joining The Men’s Club so we could go to the father and son swim on Wednesday nights.”

Top of page, that’s Lee Sanderson with the saxophone on the left with the Boys Club Orchestra circa 1970. Above, Lee and Mary-Ellen Sanderson with sons Ian and Gabe.
22 March 2024 •

Jack served as The Men’s Club’s vice president and was active in fundraising work, like running Wednesday night Bingo games. As for Sanderson, he received The Boys Club of Clifton’s 1971 Young Man of the Year Award.

“The Club was such an important part of my life and development,” said Sanderson.

Young and Invincible

Taking the stage at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park and at Rockefeller Center’s Christmas Tree Lighting came with time. But one of Sanderson’s earliest commitments was to the Showband of the Northeast.

That passion for music started by participating in The Boys Club’s Glee Club in his elementary school years. He joined The Boys Club’s Big Band while part of the Mustang Marching Band. “We would rehearse and perform

Glen Miller, Count Basie, and other swing era music,” said Sanderson. “My first paying gig was with that band, followed by many more.”

Sanderson graduated from William Paterson with a B.A. in Jazz Studies for Saxophone. He became a Professional Musician, touring nationally, internationally, and playing in local and regional show bands most often as a sideman in a horn section.

Some well-known musicians and entertainers that he’s shared a stage with included: Chubby Checker, Rodney Dangerfield, Elliot Gould, Rob Thomas, and Bruce Springsteen. The venues have included the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the Meadowlands Arena.

When he wasn’t developing his passion, Sanderson volunteered at The Boys Club. As part of The Leaders Club, he sold hot dogs, hamburgers, and snacks on Saturdays. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the members set up for nighttime Bingo games.

He also enjoyed Camp Clifton. Sanderson went from a camper to a counselor. Those days created a sense of responsibility and lifelong memories. The cabins at the camp were no exception. “Those cabins were freezing in the winter, but we were young and invincible,” he said. • March 2024 23

2024 Alumni Hall of Famers

Israel Reyes considers himself a social and outgoing person, but he knows that he didn’t get that way on his own.

“Being in that type of environment [at the Boys & Girls Club] with all of the kids and friends doing all the activities, especially after school, I think it molded and shaped my personality today,” said Reyes (CHS 2008). “I always say that The Club did that for me.”

Reyes grew up in Clifton, attending School 13 and CCMS. He joined The Club in the first grade and went all the way through the after-school program and participated in the Summer Camp every year. Today, he is among three inductees into the 2024 Club Alumni Hall of Fame.

After high school, Reyes attended William Paterson and graduated in 2012 with a degree in Political Science. He went from there into the insurance field. Reyes works in Totowa as an Insurance Broker and Broker Owner of Lealta Insurance Agency.

As for his earliest role models in his adolescence, Bob Foster is up at the top of the list.

“Where do I begin with Mr. Bob?” said Reyes, 34. “He’s always been the staple and face of the Boys & Girls Club. He was always one of the first people to come to mind when someone said something about the Boys & Girls Club.”

“It’s his kindness and leadership that stand out. Plus ev-

erything that he did for The Club,” he continued. “It felt like he was always there.”

It has felt the same for Reyes even as an adult. For the past eight years, Reyes has coached basketball for the fifth and sixth graders. When he first returned, Foster was one of the other coaches for the 3rd and 4th graders.

Reyes is now head coach for The Club’s Clifton Hawks, which went 13-1 . “I kept coming back to The Club over the years and thought, ‘Wow, this guy is still the same. He is still friendly and welcoming,’” said Reyes. “To me, he has a great energy.”

The Club clearly sees a similar type of energy worth celebrating in Reyes. Ahead of this month’s induction, Reyes said that he was “very shocked” by the honor.

“I try to do as much as I can, because the organization is very important to me,” he said. “I first started as an assistant coach, and it’s a big part of my life. Just being able to receive this news, I was at a loss for words.”

Reyes lives today in the Dutch Hill neighborhood. He believes that when it comes down to young people serving their community, it is important for everyone to realize that “everybody has to play a role.”

“Help your neighbors and the people around you, because everyone has a specific talent or trait,” said Reyes.

24 March 2024 •
Top from left: Assistant coach Christopher Reyes, Evan Hagerty, Elias Toro, Jahal Elnatshe, Karl Krajewski, Abedalnasir Albarim and coach Israel Reyes, also inset. Kneeling: Ariel Taveras, Malachi Breedlove, Saif, Warren DeGuzman, Adam Natsheh and Jaylen Batista. • March 2024 25

2024 Alumni Hall of Famers

Lori Huk sees the value as twofold for the Boys & Girls Club of Clifton. It’s about giving children the “right direction” and helping the next generations of Cliftonites.

Huk (CHS 1977) is a lifelong resident with deep roots in her community. Her father, John Van Blarcom, retired as a Detective for the Clifton Police Department and her mother, Rosemary, retired as a Clifton Crossing Guard.

Huk is married to lifelong resident Patrick Tierney and combined they have four children and three grandchildren. Daughter Kelly Tierney, niece Christine Colligan, and nephew Bill Colligan are all Special Education teachers in the Clifton Public Schools. Patrick is also familiar with The Club as his father was involved in the construction of Camp Clifton and was the President of the Men’s Club in the early 1960s.

“Camp Clifton was one of the best memories from my youth,” said Huk, who attended Camp Clifton for two weeks every summer for eight years, from 1967 to 1974. “We did archery, riflery, swimming, canoeing, arts & crafts, campfires, singalongs, and there was mess hall dining and making lifelong friends.”

The diversity and the friendships still stand out for Huk. For the past seven years, she’s served as an active member of The Club’s Alumni Association. Huk credits Camp Clifton as the foundation of her continued love of camping and

the outdoors.

Witnessing The Club’s values has also kept her involved in her community, whether as a CHS ’77 Alumni Committee member or with Clifton Mustang Pride. “When my children were grown and time allowed,” said Huk, “I wanted to put my spare time and effort into continuing to make our community a great place for our kids today.”

26 March 2024 •
Lori Huk with her husband Patrick Tierney.
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Creativity in Clifton Schools

The more that Vihaan Gupta writes stories, the more he wants to draw them.

That motivation, and encouragement from his mother, is how the School 2 third grader became a published author. One Ball: A Baby Turtle Book and The Hoverboard Glitch: A Baby Turtle Book were written and illustrated by Vihaan, 9. His mother, Megha, published the books respectively on April 30 and July 30, 2023.

It all started with a game that Vihaan and his friends created in first grade during recess. It was a rainy day and the premise of the game “Baby Turtle” was pretending everything that they stuffed in the hood of their jackets were baby turtles.

In Vihaan’s books, he brings the baby turtles to life and chronicles the always thrilling and colorful adventures of characters named Pink, Light Blue, Yellow, and Baby Green.

“The books are mostly about a family of turtles going on adventures and finding cool stuff,” said Vihaan. “The best part of creating the book was finally publishing it. It took a while, as you can guess.” The Baby Turtle books are available in hardcover and paperback on Amazon.

It Started with a Duck

Vihaan started working on the story idea when he was in second grade and credited his mother as helping to motivate him. Megha noted that despite any encouragement, it was Vihaan’s idea to see through its creation. She added that her son has always possessed a vivid imagination.

“Whenever we [did] storytime, he used to make up such good stories and he got a laugh out of it,” said

Megha. “We’d say, ‘Vihaan, write your thoughts on paper, because then you can make stories out of your beautiful thoughts.’”

So that’s what he did. Starting school remotely during the coronavirus pandemic meant that his screen time was monitored and, in the early days, Vihaan could not play on the computer. But Megha said he could experience and explore new tools. Enter, Google Slides.

Vihaan’s exposure to the new tools is what led to publishing his Kindle book, Mister Quacky: The Very Very Wacky on April 5, 2022. The story and illustrations filled up 12 pages, but Vihaan soon set his sights higher.

“He wanted me to publish his next story in [hardcover],” said Megha. “I told him that to publish a hard copy, it needed to be over 70 pages. Something got stuck in his mind and, since that day, he started working on it.”

“And now you’re the one with more work,” quipped Vihaan, with a bright smile.

Vihaan Gupta teaching his Baby Turtle Scratch games at the Clifton Library.
Telling Their Stories
30 March 2024 •
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Being a Kid

Vihaan’s favorite activity in school is creating art.

“That’s why I bought [the app] Procreate on my tablet,” he explained. “I guess it’s what inspired me to create a book with photos. Otherwise, it would be a long page full of words.”

Others shared in Vihaan’s excitement once the book was officially published. Vihaan recalled bringing it to school and showing his friends near the end of the school day.

“The second that I opened the book, they all said, ‘Oh, my God, Vihaan. You have a copyright page!” Vihaan recounted, while recreating their shocked expressions.

Megha’s pride was not only vocalized but palpable as she recalled knowing Vihaan was working on a book but respecting his wishes to only read it once it was complete. Vihaan has since done a book reading event at the Clifton Public Library.

In October 2023,

games are under the username BabyTurtleScratch, and the website allows young people like Vihaan to create and share digital stories, games, and animations.

He also used the event to showcase multiple mini games that he has created on for Baby Turtle. The

“Scratch is the first step for coding,” said Megha. “It’s a great way for kids to … enhance their interest in a STEMbased activity.”

Vihaan is an active member of the Boys & Girls Club of Clifton. He joined the Club when he started school and enjoys doing coloring sheets or playing with friends in the gym.

As someone with many interests, it’s anyone’s guess what path he will take in the future. But Vihaan isn’t worried about those types of decisions.

“Hopefully,” he replied, when asked if he will create more stories. “But right now, I’m focused on being a kid.” Follow @babyturtleworld on Instagram for the latest updates.

Telling Their Stories 32 March 2024 •
Vihaan Gupta at his Clifton Library book reading. • March 2024 33

A Man Named Basil

Everyone in his life knows him as Basil — but 93-yearold Basil Warren Worhach came into the world with a bit of an unexpected identity crisis.

Born on Dec. 14, 1930 at Passaic General Hospital, Worhach is the only child of the late Wasyl and Julia (Shi posh) Worhach. At the time of his birth, there was confu sion when completing the birth certificate.

The hospital recorded his birth name as Warren Wasyl Worhach—the first name of his maternal grandfather and his dad’s name as the middle name. The name confusion didn’t end there — reemerging when he was baptized and confirmed as Basil Warren Worhach at St. Nicholas Ukrai nian Church in Passaic.

“This lasted until it was time for him to go get a driv er’s license,” said Basil’s daughter Barbara. “New Jersey’s DMV put a hard stop to the name confusion and told him that his name was not Basil, since his birth certificate dis played his name as Warren Wasyl.”

“He was stunned but he quickly moved to the solution,” Barbara continued. “Go to court and legally change [his name] to Basil.”

It wasn’t until 60 years later that Worhach shared the story with his children and grandchildren. The family was shocked and his grandchildren found it equal parts hilari ous and puzzling why “Grandpa, given the opportunity to pick a cool ‘regular’ name, would stick with the name of Basil.” Worhach’s answer was simple.

“I liked the name Basil,” said Worhach, “and that’s how everyone knows me.”

A Wonderful Life

Worhach is a proud, lifelong Cliftonite. His mother, Julia, was born in Clifton and worked as a lace-maker at

Telling Their Stories
34 March 2024 • • March 2024 35

Telling Their Stories

They thought it was too dangerous, so he did deliveries on foot.”

Worhach attended School 12, the old School 10 on Clif ton Avenue, and graduated June of 1948 from CHS (now CCMS). For his senior prom, Worhach found the perfect date in Crooks Avenue resident Ruth McManus.

“She had a nice personality and was easy to get along with. We just seemed to click,” said Worhach. “It was go ing to be someone to go to prom with, and that was it, but we continued going on together and eventually got mar ried.”

First the Army—Then a Family

Worhach enjoyed drafting class at CHS and knew he didn’t want to become a factory worker.

He took the train to and from Jersey City to learn the drafting trade and met his lifelong friend of 62 years, Sante Galeazzi. Worhach’s first job break was at Richardson Scale Company, now a housing site, on Van Houten Av enue. He started on a six-month trial basis and retired 45 years later in 1995 after they closed their Clifton location.

Early in his career, Worhach was drafted for the Korean War and served from April 1952 to April 1954. He was sta tioned at Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania to complete leadership training and became an instructor for the leader ship school and new recruits.

Worhach was subsequently transferred to Washington State, before he was shipped overseas to Japan and Korea. While in the Army, Basil held the rank of Corporal and per formed the functions of Jeep driver and radio operator.

“I met some nice people there,” said Worhach. “When I got home from the service, I kept in contact with a bunch of them, because they were such nice guys.”

Before heading out, Worhach made sure to marry Ruth. The couple wed Oct. 11, 1952, at St. George’s Catholic Church in Paterson. Their son, Robert, was born on their first anniversary. Worhach would not meet his son until he was honorably discharged when the baby boy was already six months old. The couple also had three daughters, Barbara, Nancy, and Sheila.

The children grew up on Lincoln Avenue, where Worhach and Ruth bought their first house.

“We learned how to ride bicycles, went sledding down the steep hill of Lincoln Avenue, swam in the backyard above ground pool, and stayed up late on endless summer nights playing cards with our parents and the neighborhood kids,” said Barbara.

“If you want something,” he always says, “work for it.”

Ruth passed away unexpectedly at age 69 in 1999, but Worhach continues living in his Clifton home. He’s participated in bowling leagues over the years and he traveled to all 50 states and many European countries and cities.

He enjoys photography and has collected a circulated, uncirculated, and proof coin collection. He collects miniature lighthouses and has an extensive beach sand collection. He is a parishioner of St. Paul Roman Catholic Church, at 124 Union Ave.

An only-child, he now has four children, nine grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren. He’s most proud of his family and hopes he’s remembered one day as a good father. His advice is simple: “Live a good clean life, and stay out of trouble.”

36 March 2024 • • March 2024 37

A Love of Life

People say that age is a state of mind, but Rose (Gibba) Klemans put those words to action.

Klemans is a lifelong resident who grew up in the Athenia section. After attending School 13 and graduating with the CHS Class of 1943, she went on to nursing school.

On March 6, she will turn 99 — but not before she celebrates the occasion with her loved ones.

Speaking last month with her daughter Cathleen, she said they would have their annual birthday party for Klemans at the Mountainside Inn, at 509 Hazel St. The previous tradition was to have a party at the Bethwood prior to its sale.

This year, over 30 people will join Klemans — with family coming from Virginia, friends joining them from church, and her former nurse colleagues.

Two things became clear when speaking to daughter Cathleen. The first is that Klemans has touched many lives and people haven’t forgotten her generosity of spirit. The second — a life well-lived is no small feat to summarize.

“My mother drove until she was 92 years old. She was not a housewife sitting at home,” said Cathleen. “Church was a big part of her life and she never missed a Sunday.”

“She went on cruises every year to the Bahamas with my sister, she traveled to Ireland years ago with a group,” she continued. “I also drove up with her a few times to Canada. She’s well-traveled and well-rounded.”

Klemans went to work straight out of nursing school, pulling double shifts in the hospital. She spent her career as a Registered Nurse at Passaic Beth Israel Hospital, where she retired as Nurse Manager when she was aged 79.

During her years as the nurse manager, she was a membe of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses,

Chapter 1. She was an elected board member and also served on multiple committees. Separately, Klemans was an active delegate with the American Operating Room Nurses and traveled to conventions all over the United States.

“Her whole life has been nursing. That’s her love,” said Cathleen. “As a kid growing up in her neighborhood, if someone was sick or got hurt — they’d call for Rose.”

“You didn’t have the Internet back then, so you had to depend on your neighbors,” she added. “That’s how it was.”

Doing It Right

Klemans’ nursing background included working in the ER, the regular floor, the Assistant Head of OR, and later as the Manager of Central Supply. Her expertise presented her with an opportunity to teach an OR technician class through Passaic County at Barnert Hospital for about half a year, while still maintaining her day job.

The other love of Klemans’ life was her late husband, Clifford, who passed away in 1976. The couple had two daughters, Cathleen and Candy.

Telling Their Stories
38 March 2024 •

Cathleen acknowledged that she’s learned a great deal from her mother over the years. Along with watching her work hard in her career, Klemans’ daughters saw her active as a member of Ukrainian Orthodox Holy Ascension Church, at 635 Broad Street. Klemans held several elected positions on the Board at the church, including Treasurer and Recording Secretary.

“[She taught us that] you don’t give up. You do your job and you do it right,” said Cathleen. “Me and my sister, Candy, weren’t whiners. We were always brought up that you just deal with life.”

“It’s probably why we succeeded,” she added. “She was an excellent role model … who always did what was right.”

A Daily Blessing

Today, Klemans and Cathleen live together in the Richfield section. Cathleen enjoys getting her mother dressed up and going with her to the Poconos. They have a time-

share and visit Mount Airy Casino Resort the week before Christmas each year, where they play the penny machines and enjoy the decorations and special dinners.

But what Cathleen enjoys the most is making her mother laugh.

“She was first diagnosed with dementia three and a half years ago, and it has pretty much stayed the same,” said Cathleen. “The doctor said, ‘Just let her be happy. You’re in her world.’”

“Life is too short … so you need to treat every day like it’s a blessing and just be happy,” Cathleen continued. “None of us know when it’s going to be our time.”

And Klemans does her part to keep it light and joyful as well.

“She’s even funnier now. I’ll do her hair at home and one day, when I was doing her hair and mine [wasn’t done], she looked at me and said, ‘When are you gonna do your hair?’ Cathleen laughed.

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A Century in the Making

Faith and family have defined the past near-century of Rose (Peraino) Oliva’s life.

Oliva, a Clifton resident for roughly 70 years, will turn 100 on March 24. Her daughter Linda Oliva-Paparella said that past years have featured multiple birthday celebrations with the different sides of the family. For the milestone occasion, the guest list will crowd three digits.

“Everything she has ever done was for her family. We were blessed to be the highlight of her life,” said Linda, 65. “We’re carrying that forward for our own children, and hopefully they’ll do that for their children. She’s a great example of what to be in life.”

Born and raised in Bellville, Oliva grew up with five sisters and one brother. Both of her parents worked, with her father having a vegetable store where Newark Penn Station is today. As Oliva grew up and the U.S. entered World War II, she would go on to help make transistors.

Marriage is what brought Oliva to Clifton and the Richfield Village neighborhood. She met her eventual husband, Anthony “Tony” Oliva, at a dance hall while he visited his best friend Eddie, who lived in Bloomfield. Tony was a Union City native with a family business on Getty Avenue, Plastex, employing roughly 40 people and making rain gear for police and crossing guards.

The couple wed in 1953 and had three children, Anthony (CHS 1975), Linda (CHS 1976), and Cathy Caradimitropoulo (CHS 1986). They were married for 42 years, until his passing in 1995, and their family has since ex-

panded with five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Oliva worked part time at Fisher-Stevens, Inc. in Clifton when her children were young. Today, she lives in the Ravine Park neighborhood with son Anthony and enjoys visits to the Allwood Diner, where everyone

Rose Oliva on Thanksgiving 2022 with daughters Linda and Cathy, and great-grandson, Gio. Rose Oliva with four of her grandkids and her great-grandson, Gio.
Telling Their Stories
40 March 2024 • • March 2024 41

knows her. Linda and Cathy remain local in the Caldwells.

One of Linda’s fond childhood family memories is visiting Branch Brook Park in Newark once the cherry blossoms were in bloom. It is something that her mother would walk down from her house to see as a girl and did with her own children each spring. Now, she makes more memories with her great-grandchildren.

“Every morning, I count my blessings that I have her. Very few of my friends [still have a parent],” said Linda. “We always bring her food and we try to get her out as much as possible. I also try to bring my grandkids to see her as much as possible.”

er young at heart. As a child, Oliva would bounce a ball off the front steps, shoot marbles, and bike ride. Now, she throws balls and does silly things with her great-grandchildren, who are ages 2 and 3 months.

“They are absolutely the loves of her life,” said Linda. “Her eyes light up when I show up with her great-grandchildren.”

As Oliva nears centenarian status, Linda says her mother’s trust in the Lord has most influenced the daughter’s life.

She’s “GG” — and Linda said the kids keep her moth-

“Either the Lord will carry you through it,” said Linda, “or will change your situation. My mother has always had a strong faith that everything will be OK. It’s why her ultimate destination is Heaven, not here.”

Telling Their Stories
42 March 2024 •
Circa 1980, Tony and Rose Oliva with their three children, Linda, Cathy, and Anthony. • March 2024 43

Telling Their Stories

From Clifton Author to Hallmark Channel

Writing books is Gina (Barbone)

Azzi’s passion, but hearing that Clifton loved ones watched her Hallmark movie was a unique type of thrill.

Azzi (CHS 2005) wrote the screenplay for “A Scottish Love Scheme”, which premiered Jan. 13 on the Hallmark Channel. Azzi has authored and self-published over 30 books since 2015. But her journey to writing was far from linear.

When we spoke with her for Clifton Merchant’s April 2023 edition, she said she had assumed her love of writing “seemed like a hobby” and wasn’t a “viable career option.” Now, she would tell the young girl who visited the Clifton Public Library weekly with her mother to follow her dreams.

“Bet on yourself and double down on yourself,” said Azzi, 37. “Something you feel strongly about might not be the most linear path forward and you’ll definitely have to zig and zag, but keeping at it can turn it into a career path.”

“Even though [writing is] a lot of work,” she added, “it will never feel like it, because I love it so much.” Find Azzi’s books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or by visiting

That mentality is what led to Azzi penning her first screenplay, which she began working on a few years ago. She never envisioned that Hallmark would pick it

44 March 2024 • • March 2024 45

From Clifton Author to Hallmark Channel

up, but she wanted to try something new. Romance stories were already in her wheelhouse — and she has penned multiple series in the sports romance genre — but writing for the screen was an entirely new practice.

Azzi, who lives with her family in Ontario, Canada, collaborated with Canadian production house BRB Pictures. She described the collaborative relationship as beneficial considering how solitary writing is. Azzi acknowledged that receiving writing feedback and later coordinating with the producer and script coordinator isn’t the norm.

“Once the script was sold to Hallmark, they didn’t have to keep me on as the writer. They could have outsourced it to one of their writers. I was really fortunate,” said Azzi. “I got to be involved with different revisions and be part of the process as the script neared production. I’m fortunate to have had that opportunity and to have learned so much.”

“A Scottish Love Scheme” tells the romantic journey of Lily (Erica Durance) as she takes a trip to Scotland with her mother, resulting in her reconnecting with a charismatic childhood family friend, Logan (Jordan Young). The film is available to stream on the Hallmark Movies Now app.

Finding the Words

Born to parents Mike and Terry Barbone, Azzi grew up with her brother, Michael (CHS 2011). She attended School 2 and WWMS before CHS, later matriculating at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. There, she doublemajored in International Relations and Italian, while minoring in Economics. Summers spent with family on the Jersey shore inspired her early work, not unlike how her love for Scotland influenced her latest endeavor.

Despite being an original story and screenplay, the inspiration for her wanting to write a film set in Scotland came from writing her “Finding Love in Scotland” series. Azzi has visited Edinburgh and felt that “Scotland and the charm of the Scottish countryside” made for a good backdrop.

Knowing what she wanted to write meant the biggest adjustment became how she wrote it.

“The most interesting … part of writing a script is that everything needs to happen through the dialogue,” said Azzi. “When writing a book, there are inner monologues and I write in the first person with alternating points-ofview.”

“The dialogue also has to be realistic … and move the plot forward. It was a fantastic writing exercise,” she continued. “It makes me more aware and in tune when I’m writing dialogue in books now.”

Seeing the words come off the page meant everything to her. She credited the actors, cast, and crew for doing “such an incredible job.” Given it was her first time ever on a set, she went in with little awareness about the moving parts and variables that go into shooting a film.

“It was mind-blowing how everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing at any point in time,” she said. “It was very cool, because they definitely put their own stamp on it and infused the characters with such personality. I don’t even know if there are words.”

Love from Clifton

Watching the finished movie was its own experience.

Azzi experienced it with her husband, Tony, and their children Aiva, 8, Rome, 6, and Luna, 4. She wasn’t sure her kids would sit through it since they’re young, but they were her biggest cheering section.

Other support came from romance readers that connected with her during a watch party on the social platform Discord, where Azzi and director Heather Hawthorn Doyle answered questions.

Yet Azzi was particularly blown away by the responses that she received from childhood friends and her community. She even reconnected with her School 2 first grade teacher, Cathy Kartanos. “To have that hometown love hit differently,” said Azzi. “Some friends’ parents had watch parties and sent me photos.”

There’s no shortage of upcoming projects that excite Azzi. The spinoff Knoxville Coyotes football series that she told us about last March had two books released in November 2023 and then on Feb. 5. The third installment is set for October.

Meanwhile, Azzi is teaming up with five other hockey romance authors. The group launched a kickstarter from Feb. 13 to 29, where they each wrote a hockey book in an individual series. Each story has a common thread that links the books.

Azzi said writing more screenplays is definitely a hope for her future. Her confidence to pivot into the uncharted area is owed in part to Clifton, along with the Clifton Public Schools.

“I feel so fortunate to be brought up there and to have had teachers who were so encouraging and supportive,” said Azzi. “They would read extra stories that I wrote that were not part of the school assignments. I think that’s special, and it gave me the foundation and the confidence to pursue this [journey].”

46 March 2024 • • March 2024 47

Landscapes OF CLIFTON

Have Clifton Merchant Mailed. $50 per year $80 for two • Mailed via first class to your home Name: Address: City:___________________________ State: Zip:___________________ Phone: Email: Please make checks to Tomahawk Promotions, 1288 Main Ave., Clifton NJ 07011 48 March 2024 •
The Clifton Arts Center sponsored a digital photo contest, which generated about 50 entries focused on the landscape and architecture of Clifton. Above, that’s the grand prize winner, Main Memorial Park at Sunrise, by John Tauber, also pictured. Other winners from left: Sunrise at Mt. Prospect Park by Jim Malloy, Winter Garret Mountain by Kathryn McDonnell Edel, and The Barrow House by Juan Ruiz. • March 2024 49
R E G I S T E R N O W 50 March 2024 • • March 2024 51

SOLD $1,995,000

Clifton real estate is so hot it sizzles. Check out this recent closing on Grove St.

Built in 2018, the sprawling abode at 284 Grove St. offers a NYC skyline view from what some call “Clifton’s Millionaires Block.” It features seven bedrooms, seven baths and a total of 20 rooms over a 6,200 sq-ft living area. Add to that a 2,000 sqft finished basement with 8-foot ceilings, a bar and billiards which open to a high end covered outdoor kitchen and a private yard.

Listed on MLS for $1,995,000 on Aug. 1, 2023 by Jose Perez (CHS 2007) of Howard Hanna Rand Realty, the seller accepted a buyer’s offer for the listing price on Aug. 13, presented by another lifelong Cliftonite, Julian Nazario, who is part of the Pick Pina Group of Coldwell Banker Realty.

The home closed on Jan. 31.

As for Perez, this Clifton record-setting sale was not his first rodeo.

In Nov. 2022, he sold 425 Grove St. for $900,000—another 6,000 sq-ft. home that needed some work. After its current owner’s investment and improvements, Perez said the home is now worth over $2.2 million.

Clifton’s appeal is no coincidence as far as Perez is concerned.

“There is no inventory,” said Perez, “and Clifton has become a great hot-spot due to its diversity, proximity to the city, and to all airports and stadiums.”

What in Store for 2024?

In January, this magazine took a look at projects happening around the city, with a focus on the construction of apartment units and new complexes. But just as the multiunit market is hot, the single-family housing market is its own beast, and Clifton real estate agents have seen it firsthand.

In short, Clifton is a seller’s market.

Listing agent Jose A. Perez of Howard Hanna Rand Realty and selling agent Julian Nazario of the Pick Pina Group at Coldwell Banker. Above, the $1,995,000 home that closed Jan. 31.
52 March 2024 •

Recent housing trends reported by Redfin and other sources confirm that assessment. For January, Redfin reported that Clifton home prices were up 12.2% compared to the previous year.

As far as the more modest Clifton homes, they are selling for a median price of $505,000 and, on average, are selling after 37 days on the market. That number is down from 54 days in 2023. Clifton additionally saw 58 homes sell in January, 2024, which is up from 55 homes in 2023.

Of the homes sold, Redfin reported that 72.4% sold above list price (up 25.1 percentage points from January 2023) and 5.7% of homes sold with price drops (down 11.8 percentage points in the same time frame).

Migration trends are another area of focus. From November 2023 to January, 70% of Clifton homebuyers looked to stay within the metropolitan area. When they did look to leave Clifton, many considered major cities like Miami, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. Alternatively, a significant percentage of those looking at Clifton were living in San Francisco.

Nazario, who’s worked in the real estate industry for over a decade, echoed a similar sentiment to Perez in terms of the competitive market and a lack of inventory. The two factors, coupled with an expectation of mortgage rates coming down in a few months, are what Nazario identified as setting a new floor for real estate prices.

The record-setting Grove Street sale was for an impressive home, but Nazario said no real estate transaction is a smooth sale. Nazario credited Perez’s experience, work ethic, and commitment to the sale.

“The deal had its challenges and hurdles,” said Nazario, “but Jose’s constant communication, work ethic and how he represented the seller achieved both of our clients’ real estate needs.”

To Come: More Estates with NYC Views...

Another local hot project, according to Nazario, is Steven Porada’s forthcoming single-family homes up on Vincent Drive. The location and accessibility to transportation make the future homes major selling points.

The 14 single-family houses will feature four different styles of homes, multiple times. Sizes will range from roughly 3,700 to 6,000 sq-ft.

“It’s right in the heart of Montclair Heights,” said Nazario. “There is not going to be any other development in terms of those single family homes with that view of the New York City skyline.”

“Steve does incredible work. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and he has done it in Bergen County,” continued Nazario. “I’m excited for the homes that he brings to market for us.”

It kind of makes you wonder, what’s your home worth? • March 2024 53

Phyllis Valentino was named Small Business Relationship Manager at Spencer Savings Bank. With two locations in Clifton, she works with branch managers on developing relationships with business customers in Spencer’s 27 local banks. Prior to joining Spencer, she was with large financial institutions, as well as at a brokerage on Wall Street. For more information visit

Support the Relay For Life team Red Hat Angels on March 5 from 5-8 pm at Wendy’s, 83 Main Ave. Mention Relay For Life for dine-in, take-out, or drive-through orders and 15% will be donated. Relay for Life of Clifton and Rutherford is May 4 at Clifton Stadium, 350 Piaget Ave., 6 pm to midnight. The theme is 80’s Slumber Party. Contact ACS partner Halle Baker at Follow @rfl_cliftonrutherfordnj on Instagram.

The Relay for Life and All Humane Animal Rescue have partnered to sponsor a fundraiser on April 14 from 1:30-2:30 pm at Crunch Clifton, 895 Paulison Ave. Unwind during the yoga session while surrounded by furry friends and supporting a great cause. Tickets are $42.50 and available on Eventbrite. For Puppy event info, call Kim Mscisz at 201-957-5922. For Clifton Relay info, contact Halle Baker at halle.baker@

Former Soccer Mustang John Babula was named PCA’s Coach of the Year, one of 10 national winners from the nearly 500 nominated coaches throughout the country. Babula has volunteered as a coach in the Bloomfield Soccer Club for the past seven years and was nominated by his girls’ soccer team, the U11 Bloomfield Thunder, after they completed the fall season 7-1-1. The team won the Piscataway Fall Classic Tournament and had a run in the New Jersey State Cup – Presidents Cup, where they advanced to the semifinals. They completed their season in EDP Flight IV, earning 22 points and tying them for most points in the group. In 2021, NJ Youth Soccer named Babula the Bob McNulty Coach of the Year.

The 2023 Boys & Girls Club of Clifton Youth of the Year finalists are: Francesca Brito-Ariza, Mia Coronato, Alex Davis, Madison Daynes, Pawel Drzymala, Deijah Kelly, Sarah Kincherlow-Warren, Sydney McHale, Andrew Montanez, Angelina Parra, Alias Ragsdale, and Natalie Rozon.

54 March 2024 •

Sara Liszner with Gustavo Orales, manager of the food pantry of St. Peter’s Haven, with her annual collection of cold weather clothes. The attendees at the CHS Mustang Band Concert were asked to bring hats, gloves, scarves, or a monetary donation in lieu of an entrance fee. Over 300 warm gear items and $650 in cash were collected at the December concert. Sara, an alumni of the Mustang Band, has spearheaded this project since graduating in 2018.

On Feb. 6, Clifton City Council’s first item on the agenda was filling the late Councilwoman Lauren Murphy’s seat. Councilman Bill Gibson motioned to appoint the 2022 election’s eighth place finisher Chris D’Amato. The motion was seconded and approved by unanimous vote with no other nominees. D’Amato was administered the oath of office with his wife, Lily, at his side and joined his colleagues at the table for his first meeting.

Murphy passed away on Jan. 13 at age 69 after battling pancreatic cancer. The Lauren Murphy Scholarship Fund was created in her memory with the first scholarship to be awarded in 2024 to a CHS student planning a career in social work. Send checks to: Lauren Murphy Scholarship Fund, 57 Dalewood Rd, Clifton, NJ 07013. • March 2024 55
Council appointee Chris D’Amato and the late Lauren Murphy.

Support Boy Scout Troop 21 Clifton at their annual Pancake Breakfast March 3 in the St. Philip the Apostle School Auditorium, 797 Valley Rd. Seating is 8 am to noon (last seating at 11:30 am). Adults pay $15, seniors $12, children 12 and under are $8. Children under 4 eat free with a paying adult. Purchase tickets at the door. Pancakes, sausage, eggs, juice, and coffee will be served. If interested in joining Cub Scouts, for boys grades K-5, email For info on joining Boy Scouts, for boys ages 10-17, email

Clifton was named best place to live in’s “Top 25 Best Places to Live in the Northeast”. The recognition follows Livability’s ranking of Clifton in June of 2023 as the 12th of the top 100 best places to live in the U.S. The ranking notes our parks, arts scene, lower crime rate, and robust public schools. Other top five communities: Warwick, RI; Cranston, RI; Pittsburgh, PA; and Jersey City.

Need a new bed? CHS 2007 and 2010 alums Donald and Melissa (Ayers) Lopuzzo are directors of the ever-growing Wallington Marching Band. They will host a one-day mattress sale on March 23 from 10 am to 5 pm to raise funds. The gym, at 234 Main Ave, Wallington, will be transformed into a mattress showroom with 25 styles and sizes on display. For info: Call Dave Cox at 201-741-0415 or email for info.

The Clifton Garden Club meets March 12 from 6:308:30 pm at the Allwood Library, 44 Lyall Rd. Margaret Zelenka, a 20-plus year science teacher and a NJ Licensed Tree Expert, as well as an International Arboriculture Certified Arborist, will do a presentation on Aquaponics. Free and open to all, call Donna Fantacone at 973-473-0577.

Clifton Rec’s Bunny Bash is March 23 from 9:30-11:30 am at Nash Park, rain or shine. The free family event is great for kids ages 3-12 with bunny-themed activities. Visit or call 973-470-5956.

The Dutch Hill Residents Association will meet 7 pm on March 21 at the historic Vanderhoef House in Weasel Brook Park. The meeting is open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. Parking is available. More info write:

Councilwoman Rosemary Pino noted that she offers to donate a basket to organizations hosting a tricky tray or fundraiser. Text 973-910-8683 to get connected.

56 March 2024 •


Saif Al-Deen Saleh with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds makes Mustang history, as did the back-to-back CHS Cheer team champions.

Clifton wrestling turned it up big time winning six consecutive matches to begin the month (part of a 10-match streak overall). The final three of those victories were in the playoffs, as the Mustangs won the North I, Group V sectional title in exciting fashion, beating Passaic County Tech, 32-31, on Feb. 7.

Junior 215-pounder Justin Gaviria picked up a buzzerbeating overtime win over Bulldogs junior Justin Mayo with a takedown, giving him 6-5 sudden victory and clinching the Mustang championship. Gaviria’s moment was part of an 18-point Clifton rally that resulted in their first win over the Bulldogs in three tries. In the District V tournament at Fair Lawn, Clifton took second as a team behind one of the state’s top teams in St. Joseph (Montvale), while junior 165-pounder Joe Geleta earned an individual championship and Most Outstanding Wrestler honors. Six Mustangs placed overall.

Dan Geleta and Omar Polanco won District V Head Coach of the Year and Assistant Coach of the Year, respectively. Joe Geleta and senior 126-pounder Najati Salim both took second in Region II on Feb. 24 in Mount Olive to advance to the state individual tournament in Atlantic City.

On a different mat, Clifton cheer took home the NJCDCA State Championship on Feb. 24 at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft. It was Clifton’s second season in a row winning a state crown, and they did so “hitting zero”—that is, getting zero point deductions from the judges.

Clifton boys basketball rebounded from a 1-7 start to reach 11-12 as of Feb. 8. But they lost four straight heading into the North I, Group IV playoffs, where they ended up a fifteen-seed. Matched up with 2023 Group IV champion Paterson Eastside, their prospects

weren’t great, but Clifton came up big, shocking the secondseeded Ghosts, 53-51, to advance to the second round.

Senior center Saif Al-Deen Saleh made some Mustang history during Clifton’s Feb. 17 contest with Dumont. On his home floor, Saleh reached both the 1,000-point and 1,000-rebound milestones for his career, cementing his place as one of the greatest players in Clifton hoops history. • March 2024 57

Here are the Mustangs of the Month for March 2024.

These four students, one from each grade, were selected by the vice principals at CHS, to be spotlighted for their personal achievements and school-wide contributions.

Melissa Garth – Freshman

Melissa Garth is well into the back half of her freshman year and is already committed to multiple high school clubs and activities at CHS.

Garth (CHS 2027) plays on the Girls Varsity Soccer team, as well as participates in Chorus, the school musical, and is in the regional choir. She additionally wants to play Flag Football and run Track in the spring. Part of how she has managed to be successful in high school is maintaining good grades in her honors classes.

She sees herself potentially taking advantage of the academic programs that CHS has to offer, including the Bergen Program, PCCC program, Academies, or MSU program.

“I am very interested in these programs,” she said, “and am looking into what I think would be the best fit for me.”

Garth’s favorite subject oftentimes varies. This year, she’s enjoying what her class is learning in Biology. She also appreciates her Chorus teacher Leonid Weismantel.

“He is a very talented and spirited teacher who encourages his students to unlock their potential and take new risks,” said Garth.

The freshman is further inspired by her mother.

“She is a kindhearted individual who works hard in order to give both me and my sister the best opportunities possible for our future.”

Nikita Shchekotikhin – Sophomore

Showing dedication and respect is how Nikita Shchekotikhin believes success is achieved. The two qualities, in his opinion, don’t require “extraordinary effort.” “I believe in showing appreciation toward teachers who inspire me, listening to their advice, and completing tasks diligently,” said Shchekotikhin. “This has helped me succeed so far.”

He is enrolled in the Computer Science Academy and has explored CHS’ other academic programs, finding them appealing as options for the future. The CHS 2026 studnet’s favorite subject is drama. He has “a deep passion for it” and enjoys the classroom activities.

“What fascinates me the most is observing how diverse individuals interpret and deliver their performances,” he said. “Each person possesses a unique style and approach, which makes it intriguing to watch and learn from them.”

“Some students rely heavily on physicality to convey their characters’ emotions, while others have a remarkable ability to portray realistic feelings,” continued Shchekotikhin. “Witnessing these differences and seeing how they bring their characters to life never fails to entertain me.”

Shchekotikhin names several teachers, including Lisa Poggi (Drama), Paul Hlat (Social Studies), Ivana Massa (Science), and Leonid Weismantel (Music). “All played a significant role in shaping my interests and skills.”

Melissa Garth, Nikita Shchekotikhin, Fahmid Aftab and Veronica Trejos.
58 March 2024 •

Fahmid Aftab – Junior

Taking Honors and AP courses for the first time was a major hurdle for Fahmid Aftab. “Taking these courses was sometimes difficult for me,” said Aftab (CHS 2025). “I had to adjust quickly to the workload and the amount of exams that I had to study for since most people in my classes took Honors classes in their freshman year.”

Aftab has gained time management and critical thinking skills from the experience. He added that he gained consistency and feels more prepared for future college courses.

Working for big tech companies as a software engineer or developer is part of Aftab’s future goals. He hopes to utilize various languages of coding to develop programs and applications.

“I plan on attending a technical college,” he said, “where I want to major in Computer Science in order to increase my knowledge on various coding languages and earn internships from the top companies.”

Getting involved continues to be a large component of Aftab’s high school experience. He has served as the Key Club Vice President and the Muslim Students Association Webmaster.

“My mom inspires me the most because of her hard work and the kindness she expresses when taking care of the family or treating people in society,” said Aftab.

Veronica Trejos – Senior

Veronica Trejos is dedicated to a career as a General Surgeon. This fall, she will join the Class of 2028 at Seton Hall to major in Biology.

Thus far, her biggest high school hurdles were overcoming the disconnect of online learning and striking a balance between high school classes, college classes, sports, and work.

“Getting a job increased the amount of work and stress that I have piled onto myself,” said Trejos (CHS 2024), “but I know all this hard work will pay off in the end.”

The person in Trejos’ life who is her inspiration is her niece Isabella.

“I am who I am in hopes of teaching and conveying a message that ‘you can achieve anything you put your mind to,’” said Trejos. “She’s the reason I want to be who I am. She’s the reason why I fight for me.”

Trejos is also inspired by the view that passersby have of the George Washington Bridge from the Fort Lee Historic Park.

“This bridge teaches me lessons that take my breath away,” said Trejos. “People pass through [it] every day. They come and they leave. But no matter what happens, the bridge stays. It holds you together. This bridge is how I see people in my life.” • March 2024 59

Birthdays & Celebrations - March 2024

Doris Struyk turns 91 on March 10, pictured with granddaughter Nicole Rosoline -Peterson and her husband Kenny Peterson while baking Christmas cookies. Ruth Basta daughter of Medhat and Melba Basta of Clifton celebrated her 23rd Birthday on March 27. Alex Fadil hits 24 on March 12. Zayden Oskar Buonafina is 6 on March 13. Dana Aref is 19 on March 10.

James Payton Fogle-Hrina was born Feb. 1 to Steven Hrina and Sharian Fogle. Elaine Sassine will be 76 on March 15, the Ides of March. Colleen Murray is 84 on March 20. Stephany Naomi Bernales is 30 on March 19. Crystal Castro turns 16!!! on March 21. Liam Kelly is 13 on March 15.

John Vatasin turns 36 on March 23. Congratulations to Corey & Michelle Genardi, celebrating their anniversary on March 28. Their daughter Bianca Eda Genardi turns 18 on March 2.

Julie Generalli Dominick 3/1

Kathleen Pocoek 3/1

Meaghan Franko .......................... 3/1

Kenzie Lord .................................... 3/3

Amelia Lara 3/3

Amanda Perez 3/3

Amelia Ipenza ............................... 3/3

Valerie Godowsky ........................ 3/5

Alice Paxton 3/5

Patricia Vigh .................................. 3/5

Carol Crudele ............................... 3/6

Ted Grzybowski 3/6

Pat Smith 3/8

Victoria Crudele ............................ 3/9

Pamela Culque ............................3/10

Tiffany Sabo 3/10

John Gorny 3/11

Eddie Gasior, Jr. .......................... 3/12

Mike Pesaro ................................ 3/12

Victor Berdecia 3/13

Joann Szepietowski 3/13

Diego Hernandez ....................... 3/15

Tyler Hughes 3/15

Laura Lee 3/15

Samira Abdelhady 3/16

Joanne Szepietowski .................. 3/13

60 March 2024 •

Casey Bivaletz is 34 on March 2 and Lyla turns 3 on March 21.

Suzanne Ciok 3/19

Janette Hughes ............................ 3/19

Caitlin Lotorto .............................. 3/19

Holly Sorenson 3/20

Nenad Vuckovic 3/20

Monica Ahmed ........................... 3/21

George Andrikanich 3/22

Elisabel Reyes 3/24

Carmen Rivera 3/24

Kyle Hooyman ........................... 3/24

Suzanne Wachtler 3/26

Michele Andrikanich 3/27

Jennifer Mondelli ........................3/27

Nicholas Surgent ........................3/27

Aidan Tedesco 3/27

Muriel Curtin 3/28

Francis Salonga .......................... 3/31

Paul McVeigh .............................. 3/31

Chris Kolodziej 3/31

Send birthdays to • March 2024 61

Mustang alum and author Camille GomeraTavarez on March 6 at 6 pm hosts a book reception at the Clifton Public Library, 292 Piaget Ave. Following the acclaimed release of her 2022 debut book High Spirits, the CHS 2015 grad released her first full-length novel, The Girl, the Ring, & the Baseball Bat on Feb. 6 through Levine Querido Publishing. The new book is set in Jersey City and follows the lives of three teenagers finding their way to different magical objects related to their internal journeys.

Hailey Mia is going to Hollywood! On Feb. 25, the Clifton native’s audition for American Idol season 22 aired on ABC, with three resounding yeses from judges. Mia, 16, sang “Rise” by Katy Perry to a panel that included Perry, herself, as well as Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie. In December 2021, this magazine caught up with Mia after she became the youngest competitor of NBC’s The Voice season 21. Mia, who auditioned earlier that year at age 13, went on to the finals for the singing competition.

62 March 2024 •
Thanks to a contribution by NOVA UA FCU, dozens from the Clifton/Passaic area boarded buses early in the morning of Feb. 24 headed to Washington DC to show their support for Ukraine and advocate for US funding to fight the Russian war.
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